A collection of four images taken by Ant Robling: Elphaba from Wicked on top of Leeds Town Hall, Margaret and Jamie Campbell at Everybody's Talking About Jamie press night, a production image of panto dame Simon Nock and a production image of Laurie Brett from Band of Gold

Behind The Lens

To celebrate National Camera Day on Thursday 29 June, we spoke to photographer Ant Robling, who has photographed many productions at Leeds Heritage Theatres, about his life behind the lens.

Written by Ant Robling


How did you become a photographer?

My grandfather gave me an old camera many years ago. I started taking photographs with it and I just went from there.

How does production photography differ from other types of photography?

Every image must capture a moment in time that reflects the production. It’s that simple.

Why did you decide to specialise in theatre photography?

Pot luck. A close friend asked me to shoot a production of Brassed Off. When I said I’d never shot theatre before she replied, “Don’t worry, we’re not paying you“. Anyway the shoot went really well and one of the images featured in a Guardian review. My theatre work grew from there. I’m very fortunate that I have never had to advertise. People seem to like our style – my son, Rhys, works with me now.

What photoshoots have you done at Leeds Heritage Theatres?

Lots and lots. From pantomime to Russell Crowe. Personal highlights include the fabulous Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold, press nights, Opera North’s dementia friendly performances and a Town Hall roof-top shoot for Wicked!

Elphaba from Wicked on top of the Leeds Town Hall building

Amy Webb as Elphaba at Leeds Town Hall for a launch event in 2018. Credit Ant Robling.

What does being the photographer for a production usually involve?

We’re normally involved on a number of levels. The first shoot, typically, would be the meet and greet on the first day of rehearsals where cast and creatives gather for the first time. This would involve us getting press shots announcing the production. The next would be rehearsals, followed by production shots. The last shoot is usually press night.

What have been some of your favourite productions to photograph?

I love photographing pantomimes! One of my very favourites has to be the City Varieties Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto. It’s full-on fun with one of the best dames out there. Simon Nock is amazing! I also love working with particular directors. Leeds-based Amy Leach is amazing! I’ve shot various productions for Amy – Romeo and Juliet, A Christmas Carol, Oliver! and Lord of the Flies have been particular favourites. They’re always visually stunning and brilliant to photograph.

Any tips for people starting out?

Photograph as many productions as you can. Don’t be afraid to seek out advice from photographers in the industry. Try and develop your own style.

Simon Nock in a colourful maid costume as the panto dame. He stands in front of an icy woodland backdrop.

Simon Nock as the panto dame in Red Riding Hood: The Rock 'n' Roll Panto at City Varieties in 2019. Credit Ant Robling.

What do you enjoy about photographing theatre?

Variety. Rehearsals, production photography and press nights are just a part of it. Theatre is so much more. I particularly love the work theatres do outside of the shows they put on. I’m always working with schools, refugee groups, SEN children and adults with learning difficulties. This is such important work that theatres regularly undertake. A lot of people may not be aware of it though.

What are the challenges of photographing theatre/how do you make sure you capture the live feeling?

Each image has to reflect movement or a dramatic moment. I see the images I want to use as I’m pressing the shutter button. So, for me, it’s quite straightforward. Lighting can be an issue but you learn to overcome any problems.

What are you up to at the moment?

We’re busier than ever. We have production shoots and press nights upcoming, work with Northern Ballet and we’re currently in the middle of shooting Bradford Literature Festival which is very full on.

Jamie Campbell in a pink jacket and trousers with his mother Margaret Campbell in a pale blue dress smiling in front of the Everybody's Talking About Jamie press board.

Jamie and Margaret Campbell at the Everybody's Talking About Jamie press night in 2021. Credit Ant Robling.

A snapshot of Ant’s photography